Future cybersecurity workforce heads to summer camp
- By William Jackson
- Jun 30, 2011
Colleges in five states are hosting more than 200 students in cyber boot camps this summer as part of a program to relieve a critical shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals.
This is the second year of camps organized by the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a government and industry effort launched in 2009 to address cybersecurity workforce needs through a collection of long-term programs.
“We are looking for at least 10,000 of the most highly skilled, capable people in the nation to become the hunter-warriors of the cyber world,” said former fed Karen Evans, the challenge's national director.
Uncle Sam, industry scout for cybersecurity talent
National competition puts high schoolers to the cyber warrior test
The talent hunt is being conducted on a number of fronts, beginning with
identifying promising students at the elementary school level and
continuing through encouraging the creation of degree programs at
universities and career paths in government. The boot camp program is a
near-term effort primarily for college students to help expand the
current manpower pool and encourage development of university degree
programs for students who are coming up from high schools.
This year’s boot camp program, which has slots for 260 students at five
schools, is a significant expansion from last year’s pilot program,
which included 55 students at three schools. But “we still have a long
way to go to get to 10,000,” said Evans, former administrator of
e-government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget.
Creating new educational programs and raising awareness of educational
and career opportunities among students and parents will be a long-term
job, she added. “In the meantime, cyber crime is really growing. Demand
isn’t going down.”
The U.S. Cyber Challenge grew out of the Securing Cyberspace for the
44th Presidency report spearheaded by the Center for Strategic and
International Studies. The report states that improving professional
training and workforce development is an essential component of
In 2009, citing what some experts called a radical shortage of skilled
cybersecurity professionals, a government/industry coalition that
included CSIS, the Defense Department's Cyber Crime Center, the Air
Force Association, the SANS Institute and a number of universities and
aerospace companies, announced the U.S. Cyber Challenge program to:
- Identify students with the proper skills and interests.
- Establish cyber boot camps to foster those interests.
- Sponsor national competitions to increase awareness.
- Establish scholarship programs.
- Provide internships and jobs.
The need for accelerating workforce development has become even more
obvious in the past two years, with a growing number of high-profile
breaches targeting government and government contractor IT systems. DOD
has created a U.S. Cyber Command to defend against such attacks and
conduct offensive operations in the new cyber domain. But civilian,
military and private-sector infrastructure operators are all competing
for the same limited pool of professionals.
“It’s not really a technology issue, it’s a people issue,” Evans said of the apparent inability to protect critical IT systems.
The boot camps were launched last year with three state programs at
California State Polytechnic University, the Polytechnic Institute of
New York University, and Wilmington University in Dover, Del.
This year’s program includes two state camps, at California State
Polytechnic University and Delaware Technical and Community College in
Dover, and two regional camps at the University of Missouri at Columbia
and the J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Va. A camp
for state high school students is also being held in Maryland at the
Community College of Baltimore County.
The one-week camps are invitation-only, and students are chosen based on
scores from the Cyber Quests online competition offered by the U.S.
Cyber Challenge in April and the results of other competitions,
including Cyber Foundations, CyberPatriot, NetWars and the DOD Cyber
Crime Center’s Digital Forensics Challenge.
Participating students receive training from college faculty and IT
professionals in a range of areas, including penetration testing,
reverse engineering, forensics and ethical behavior. There is also a job
fair and a one-day “capture the flag” competition with a $1,000
scholarship for winning team members in each camp, provided by (ISC)2.
The program is still in its development phase so it is too early to
assess results, although the federal CIO Council and the Homeland
Security Department are developing an assessment framework, Evans said.
“We’re on the input stage,” she added.
She said the efforts have been successful in identifying students
outside the traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics
curricula who have the appropriate interests and skills. The challenge
now is to maintain those interests and expand the workforce by opening
career paths for students outside the young white male demographic that
has traditionally dominated cybersecurity.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.